What is the 80/20 Rule of the Paleo Diet?

by CavemanGreg on July 2, 2011

One of the most common questions asked of me about the Paleo Diet is “Can I cheat” or “What about this or that” or something to this effect. Cheating is ok, as long as you don’t do it too much. Enter the 80/20 rule. This simply states that you will get 99% of the benefits of the Paleo Diet if you adhere to it 80% of the time. Simple as that. Going to a social gathering and being tempted by sweets or something non-paleo? If you really want to eat some desserts or bread or some other grain based dish, I say go for it. As long as it doesn’t upset your stomach and as long as you don’t make a habit of it. Make darn sure your 80/20 is exactly that not 70/30 or 50/50 or worse. Life is too short to not enjoy all it has to offer. Me personally? I like a healthy dose of Tex Mex every now and then. Enchiladas with rice and beans, you betcha. Hamburgers with buns? Sometimes I get tired of lettuce wraps and just want a good ole fashioned hamburger. And there is my true weakness, Blue Bell Ice Cream. I probably consume one half gallon carton a month. I don’t drink a lot of alchohol any more either. Once in a blue moon though, I’ll drink enough to get me buzzed and wake up with a slight hangover the next morning.  I’ve gotten to the point that my body will let me know if I cross that 20% boundary (recall the Pancake overdose story). I will feel like crap if I eat too much junk.

So, cheating is ok every now and then, but don’t cheat on your cheating. Even if you don’t pay for it like I and most of paleo eaters do, you won’t be getting the benefits of the Paleo Diet. It is beautiful thing to be a well oiled machine and function at optimal energy levels. You’ve worked hard to get where you are, try not to let indulgences set you back.

To your health,

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael - The Underwear Body July 7, 2011 at 2:31 am

I’ve just switched to paleo eating (and I feel fantastic!) so this is a great reminder for me. My bugbear at the moment is that I am cooking with peanut butter. It’s the no added salt or sugar type, but I read that peanuts are legumes, not nuts!



CavemanGreg July 7, 2011 at 10:27 am

it is true that peanuts are legumes. i don’t eat them anymore, (except maybe at baseball games) but I don’t think they are absolutely evil. If you really like peanut butter, just eat in moderation, and make sure it is good stuff-no added salts or sugars like you mention. Fresh ground is the best. Also make sure the peanuts are not cooked in some bad oil (vegatable, canola, hydrogenated, etc.)


Michael - The Underwear Body July 13, 2011 at 3:05 am

Thanks Greg,

I have been weaning myself off the peanut butter actually. I thought it was my crutch, but I’m finding it easy to reduce the amount I use. I think the more you get into this the easier it is. I am surprised how I am just not missing any of the old foods like I thought I might do.



CavemanGreg July 13, 2011 at 8:50 am

Good words of wisdom, Michael. Once you are up and running on better food, it is true you don’t miss the old stuff anymore.


rosie January 19, 2013 at 11:22 am

what is the story on cream please? is a little cream in a cup of coffee okay. Also a teaspoon of sugar or a sweetener? which is better to use and any suggestions for a substitute please – I might die without one cup of coffee a day.


CavemanGreg January 21, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I use a high quality organic heavy cream in my coffee every day! It is perfectly fine. Try to steer clear of creams that use a lot of thickeners like guar gum, carragenean, etc. If you can find raw or grass fed, even better, but no need to take it that far if its too much trouble. As for sweetener, see if you like it with extra cream. Otherwise, honey or a tad bit of sugar is ok. Some people think that Agave nectar is healthier, but in reality it is ultra processed and has more fructose than high fructose corn syrup! Enjoy!


Jessica February 27, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Hi Michael,

I have just been introduced to the Paleo diet, and I was wondering how you would measure the 80/20 rule. I am thinking about doing it, but I would like to start out 80/20.

Thank you for your help.



CavemanGreg March 7, 2013 at 10:37 am

You don’t need to get too calculated about it, or else, you might get turned off. Just listen to your body and conscience. If you do need something to help, maybe think about it like 4 out of 5 things you consume is Paleo and that other 1 isn’t. What are some things that aren’t Paleo that you foresee still eating?


Alison March 18, 2013 at 1:00 am

You from Texas? Blue Bell Ice Cream? Fort Worth, myself and new to Paleo. 18 days in and yesterday we had a party. Oh, my the guilt! I am trying to beat myself up over it. Tomorrow is a new day.


CavemanGreg March 18, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Texas boy through and through, although enjoying the Colorado Rockies these days. I never have any guilt eating Blue Bell. life is just too short…


Samantha March 24, 2013 at 6:45 am

I have been eating Paleo (100%) since lent started (Feb 13th) – never felt better! On the 80/20 diet rule what are your thoughts on having one non- paleo meals week? Not cookies and ice cream but a pasta dish- bread ect? Also I see a lot of people who are 80/20 will sometimes consume dairy? (I do miss yogurt)- thoughts?


CavemanGreg March 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Like I say in the post, as long as you can stomach whatever it is you are cheating on, and don’t get carried away with it, I say go for it. Life is short 🙂 Myself, after being paleo for so long now eating pasta will make me sick. A little bread here and there isn’t so bad. Also, regarding dairy, I’m one of those non purist who think some dairy is ok- grass fed butter, cream, and cheese particularly. As far as yogurt, the european styles without any added sugar or fruit are ok. Add your own fruit and nuts to change it up a little. Best,


Michela March 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Would you consider 3/4squaes of chocoate a day ove the 80/20 rule If everything else conforms? Tts my tru weakness!


CavemanGreg March 26, 2013 at 2:09 pm

depends on the chocolate. Anything over 70% cacoa and I’d say you’re good. Less than that and the sugar starts to add up. I personally enjoy dark chocolate in the 80-90% range quite often and don’t consider it cheating. Best. Greg


Michela March 26, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Also huge apologies for the hideous typos, I was super rushing! Thank you ill stock up on some Lindt!


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